Maine’s first flu death of the season has been reported.

According to a weekly surveillance report released late last week by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one person died from influenza during the week ending Dec. 22. The person was not named but was over the age of 65 and lived in Hancock County.

Two others have been hospitalized.

So far this season, there have been 17 hospitalizations and 168 confirmed cases, both well below this point a year ago, when there were 99 hospitalizations and 373 cases.

Last season was the deadliest yearfor the flu in decades, both in Maine and across the country. About 80,000 people died in the United States in 2017-18 from the flu, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 82 in Maine. The previous high for a regular flu season, based on analyses dating back more than three decades, was 56,000 deaths.

In addition to the high number of deaths, the number of confirmed cases has risen steadily in Maine over the last few years.

In 2017-18, there were 9,018 reported cases, up from 5,830 the previous year and 2,360 the year before that.

Things were so bad, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland took the unusual step of directing its parishes to suspend the sharing of consecrated wine, holding hands during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and shaking hands as a sign of peace, among other things.

The flu season typically runs from October through late May. Public health advocates recommend flu shots, although they are not 100 percent effective against all strains of influenza. Children and the elderly, as well as people with diminished immune systems, are more likely to be hospitalized with the flu. In 2017-18, the average age of people hospitalized for the flu was 60, according to the Maine CDC.

A report released in October by the U.S. CDC found that in the 2017-18 season, only 37 percent of adults in the U.S. were vaccinated against the flu, a decrease of 6.2 percentage points from the previous year and the lowest rate for adults 18 and older since 2010-2011. Health experts said that decrease likely contributed to the record numbers.

Flu symptoms often include fever, chills, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headaches, fatigue and coughing. Aside from immunization, basic hygiene – such as frequently washing hands, getting plenty of sleep and staying away from sick people – helps prevent spread of the flu.

So far this season, there have not been any reports of flu outbreaks — which are defined as three or more cases in one location, such as a nursing home. Last year, there were 141 reported outbreaks.


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